by Jeremy Morrison
By the time the first candidate was ushered into the room and walked around for a parade of handshakes, the University of West Florida Presidential Search Committee had been down to business for a good hour Monday morning. Getting in some last minute prep time before beginning three days of interviews aimed at selecting a new president for the university.
Committee members spent the early morning getting briefed by their consulting firm, Greenwood/Asher and Associates, as they headed into the interview process. The firm covered everything from the logistical to the psychological.
When was the appropriate time to take bathroom breaks? Who’s going to ask what questions? Be wary of a candidate without any follow-up questions. Watch out for signs a candidate may be disengaging, having second thoughts. Be aware of social details, such as a candidate only making eye-contact with white males.
“It’s happened,” Dr. Jan Greenwood said.
But, most importantly, the firm advised the board, members should focus on assessing each candidate’s ability to help UWF in its mission to achieve emerging preeminent status, a state legislative-designation which carries funding benefits. The university recently embarked on a longterm plan to satisfy a set of 12 criteria, relating to such aspects as admission standards and enrollment numbers, in order to obtain such status, but at present meets none of the criteria.
Selection committee members themselves spent the pre-interview breakfast hour going over the prepared set of questions for each candidate. A couple were deemed redundant and destined for deletion, while others were tweaked.
One point of interest was the addition of a question concerning guns. The question was added at the request of selection committee member Dr. Athena du Pre.
“I would like to simply know where each candidate stands on the issue of weapons on campus,” said du Pre, who serves as director of UWF’s Strategic Communication and Leadership master’s degree program.
Other board members were not convinced the subject belonged in the lineup. Did this rise to a significant enough level of importance, considering time constraints and question limitations?
“It’s that important, in our 50 minutes, that we’ve got to talk about firearms?” asked Steve Riggs, an accountant who graduated from the university and sits on the UWF Foundation Board of Directors. “All the Ph.D.s are saying, ‘yeah, it is.’”
Bentina Terry, a committee member and Gulf Power executive, agreed. She said the issue of guns on campus was one of many issues — “there’s a plethora of issues that’d be interesting to know someone’s viewpoint on” — and might not should make the final cut.
“In other words, there’s lots of societal issues we could be asking about,” Terry said.
But other committee members pushed for the inclusion of the subject.
“I think it could be one of those questions that is really thought provoking,” said committee member Dr. Scott Keller, a professor of logistics and marketing at the university.
“I think this is greater than a social issue, I think it’s a matter of life and death,” said committee member Dr. Pat Wentz, a UWF professor.
The president of UWF’s Student Government Association, who holds a seat on the selection committee, also wanted to include the gun question. He told the committee members about a campus event addressing the issue which had been one of the more popular events of its kind.
“It was a packed house,” recalled SGA President Christopher Thrasher.
After some discussion, the committee considered wrapping the issue in with another question for efficiency’s sake. Pairing it with another issue — like, what are your views on issues such as ‘diversity’ and ‘guns on campus’?
“Be careful not to link those two,” Dr. Greenwood cautioned.
“That’s kind of weird,” agreed Terry, suggesting that the subject just be granted its own question. “I think trying to finagle this question so it fits is very odd.”
Committee Chairman Mort O’Sullivan ultimately suggested framing the question in the context of a recent Texas law which allows for guns on campus. The board agreed and the remaining questions were quickly tidied up before committee members topped off their coffees and welcomed into the conference room the first candidate seeking UWF’s presidency.
As O’Sullivan led the candidate around the conference tables, each committee member offered a quick greeting. After introductions they took a seat, charging into the first of 16 interviews.
The chairman led the candidate around to the far end of the tables, showing him an empty chair.
“That’s your seat,” O’Sullivan told him.
— The UWF Presidential Selection Committee meets Aug. 29-31, interviewing candidates over the course of each day. Two of perhaps the highest profile candidates in the pool — UWF Provost Martha Saunders, and state Sen. Don Gaetz — are scheduled for Tuesday.